Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions - ASPECTS OF JAINA RELIGION

Front Page

Fore Word




The contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas of a revolutionary nature consisted in completely changing the attitude of the people towards God and thereby inculcating the spirit of self� reliance among the minds of the people. The common belief held by the people according to the prevalent ideology was that as this world has been created by God and that the work of controlling the events in this world in also carried out by God. This popular belief engendered a feeling of divine dispensation in the minds of the people because it was firmly held by the people that God can do and undo anything in this world in accordance with his wishes. Naturally this feeling created a sense of complete dependence on God by the people in the conduct of their daily activities and in securing happiness in this world as well as in the next world. Obviously this sense of dependence on God urged people to find out ways and means so as to obtain in abundant measure the favours of God in mundane and spiritual matters and also to avoid the displeasure or wrath of God which, it was thought, would not only bring several difficulties in the normal course of life but also would lead to complete disaster. As a result of this attitude, people began to place entirely blind faith on the omnipotent God and to secure his favours by practising certain rites and rituals laid down for the purposes. These prescribed rituals were so elaborate that they did require the services of priests who were supposed to have the special knowledge about these rites and who were also specifically authorised to perform these rituals in a proper manner. In this way the entire code of conduct of the people was fully dominated by the practice of various rituals throughout the course of life and by the priests whose help and assistance were considered most essential to work as intermediary between people and God for securing desired favours from God.

Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas launched an intensive attack on this attitude of complete submission to God by the people for attaining their final objective in life, viz. liberation. 1n this regard Tirthankara Mahavira firmly asserted that this world is eternal and has not been created by any power like God and that the happenings in this world are not controlled by God. He clearly proclaimed that nothing here or elsewhere depends on the favours of God but everything depends on the actions of the people. He confidently stated that all persons, irrespective of their class, family or position, have got a right to achieve salvation, their ultimate objective in life, by relying on themselves and through the observance of an ethical code of conduct and not by merely performing some rituals with the help of others. For this purpose he laid down a path to liberation which consisted of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct and appealed to the people to follow this path on their individual initiative and efforts and not with the help of any intermediary.

Further, he impressed on the people the theory of karma which is based on the principle of self-reliance. This doctrine explains the reasons lying behind or causes leading to effects. It maintains that every happening in this world is the result of some antecedent causes. Since the individual soul is the doer of actions, it must bear the consequences of these actions sooner or later. There is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequences cannot be shifted nor exemption from the consequences be given by anybody. The soul has to enjoy the fruits of the karmas in this life or in subsequent lives. There is no salvation until the soul stops the influx of karmas and gets rid of existing karmas and this it will have to do by its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help from an outside agency like God. There is no use in asking the favour of God or his representative because they do not have the power of determining the consequence of the karmas and have no authority to forgive people from future consequences of past actions.

This theory of karmas has been an original and integral part of the Jaina ideology, and Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people of the necessity of adopting this doctrine and of moulding their entire life on the foundation of this theory. Naturally Tirthankara Mahavira laid full stress on individual action and completely denied the existence of divine dispensation. He emphasized that man is the architect of his destiny and that there is no external power which can come in the way of getting the fruits of one�s actions, whether good or bad. He assured the people that the attainment of liberation, the ultimate objective in life, is within their reach and it depends entirely on one�s own efforts in the march on the path to liberation. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira wanted every individual to become a true hero on the battlefield of self-conquest. Thus Tirthankara Mahavira inculcated a spirit of reliance among the people in place of the feelings of utter dependence on God. This basic change in attitude brought an over-all change in the course of life of the people who began to lay stress more on the ethical aspects than on the ritualistic aspects of their conduct.


The most distinctive contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina acharyas consists in their great emphasis on the observance of ahimsa, i.e. non-injury to living beings, by all persons to the maxi�mum extent possible. Ahimsa in its full significance was realised and preached by twenty-three Tirthankaras preceding_ Tirthankara Mahavira. In fact, the philosophy and rules of conduct laid down in Jaina religion have been based on the solid foundation of ahimsa which has throughout and consistently, been followed to its logical conclusion. That is why Jainism has become synonymous with ahimsa and Jaina religion is considered as the religion of ahimsa. The significance of this basic principle of ahimsa was very powerfully reiterated by Tirthankara Mahavira as the practices of committing violence on different pretexts had become rampant at that time.

During the later Vedic period utmost importance was attached to the performance of sacrifices with a view to secure the favours of God and to avert His anger. The sacrifices were very elaborate, complicated and hedged with various restrictions. The sacrifices became a regular feature of the religious life of the people. The peculiar characteristic of these sacrifices was that they were usually accompanied by the slaughter of animals. As the sacrifices were mainly animal sacrifices they involved the practice of himsa to a considerable extent. Along with this practice, the flesh-eating or non-vegetarian diet was ex�tremely popular among the different sections of the peoplea. The people in those days were fond of meat-eating and practically all the important ceremonies were attended with the slaughter of animals. Offerings of flesh were frequently made to the Gods by worshippers.

Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas launched a vigorous attack against meat-eating and the performance of sacrificial rites by propagating the principle of ahimsa, i.e. non-injury to living beings. In fact in all his preaching Tirthankara Mahavira invariably laid great stress on the observance of ahimsa because the principle of ahinisd is -the logical outcome of the basic Jaina metaphysical theory that all the souls are potentially equal. He therefore asserted that as no one likes pain, one should not do unto others what one does not want others to do unto oneself: Since all living beings possessed a soul the principle of non-injury was obviously extended to cover all living beings. He explained the doctrine of ahirrisa systematically and to the minutest detail. He considered injury or violence of three kinds: (i) physical violence, which covered killing, wounding and causing any physical pain, (ii) violence in words consisted in using harsh words, and (iii) mental violence, which implied bearing ill-feeling towards others. Further, he made it clear that violence or injury should be avoided in three ways, that is, it should not be committed, commissioned or consented to. Moreover, among the five main vrata.r, i.e. vows, the first place was given to the observance of ahimsa . In addition, ahimsa was regarded as the principal vow, and the other four vows were considered to be merely details of the principal vow.

All these preachings of Jaina religion regarding the strict observance of the principle of ahimsa to the maximum extent possible by every individual in society produced far-reaching effects in social fields. The practice performing sacrificial rites and especially the slaughter of animals at the time of sacrifices considerably fell into disuse. Similarly killing of animals for hunting, sports and decoration purposes was greatly reduced. Further, the slaughter of animals and birds with a view to use their flesh as a form of diet slowly became unpopular. In this way injury to living beings was greatly reduced and �the practice of vegetarian diet was adopted by large sections of population in different regions of the country. In this connection Dr. N.K. Dutt (in his book Origin and Growth of Caste in India) observes that �Animal sacrifice had been of so long standing among the Aryans and such was the respect for the authority of the Vedas which made it obligatory to sacrifice with flesh offerings, that the abolition of sacrifices, even of cows, became a very slow process effecting only a very small minority, the intellectual section of the people; and might not have succeeded at all, if Jainism and Buddhism had not over�whelmed the country and the mass of the people with the teachings of ahimsa and inefficacy of sacrificial rites.�

Thus Tirthankara Mahavira emphasised the basic fact that every living being has a sanctity and a dignity of its own and therefore one must respect it as one expects one�s own dignity to be respected by others: He also firmly emphasised that life is sacred irrespective of species, caste, colour, creed or nationality. On this basis he advocated the principle of `Live and let live�: In this way Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people that the practice of ahimsa is both an individual and a collective virtue and showed that ahimsa has a positive force and a universal appeal.


Advocacy of the principle of religious tolerance has been the characteristic contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and the Jaina Acharyas. When Tirthankara Mahavira promulgated Jaina religion, he never deprecated other religions and never tried to prove that other religions are false. In fact he propounded the doctrine of Anekantavada, i.e., many-sidedness, and showed that a thing can be considered from many points of view. That is why he always advised the people to find out the truth in anything after taking into account several sides or aspects of that thing. This obviously broadens the outlook of the persons as they are made to look at a thing from different angles. At the same time the principle of Anekantavada does not engender the feelings of enmity or hatred towards the other religionists because it believes that other religions also would be having some truth from their points of view. Hence by enunciating the principle of Anekantavada, Ti.�rtharikara Mahavira and the Jaina acharyas advocated the principle of tolerance and asserted that it could be applied to intellectual, social, religious and other fields of activities. As a result we find that Anekantavitda has definitely a bearing on man�s psychological and spiritual life and that it is not confined to solve a mere ontological problem. It has supplied the philosopher-with catholicity of thought, convincing him that truth is not anybody�s monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religion. It also furnished the religious aspirant with the virtue of intellectual toleration which is a part of ahimsa

Human beings have limited knowledge and inadequate expression. That is why different doctrines are inadequate, at the most they are one-sided views of Truth which cannot be duly enclosed in words and concepts. Jainism has always held that it is wrong, if not dangerous, to presume that one�s own creed alone represents the truth. Toleration is, therefore, the characteristic of Jaina ideology as propounded by Tirthankara Mahavira. Even the Jaina monarchs and generals have a clean and commendable record to their credit in this regard. The political history of India knows no cases of persecution by Jaina kings, even when Jaina monks and laymen have suffered at the hands of other religionists of fanatical temper. Dr. B.A.Saletore has rightly observed in this regard that �The principle of ahimsa was partly responsible for the greatest contribution of the Jainas to Hindu culture-that relating to toleration. Whatever may he said concerning the rigidity with which they maintained their religious tenets and the tenacity and skill with which they met and defeated their opponents in religious disputations, yet it cannot be denied that the Jainas fostered the principle of toleration more sincerely and at the same time more successfully than any other community in India�.


Along with the maximum emphasis on the actual observance of ahimsa Tirthankara Mahavira and the Jaina acharyas greatly ex�tended the implications of. They invariably stressed both the negative and the positive aspects of ahimsa . They strongly advocated that the concept of ahimsa should not be confined only to the negative side of it, that is, the avoidance of injury to the living beings of different categories, but should be consistently applied in the positive way, that is, in the direction of increasing the welfare of all living beings. They always appealed to the people to bear good intentions about the prosperity of others, to show active interest in the welfare of the needy persons, and to take practical steps to ameliorate the miserable conditions of afflicted living beings including insects, birds, animals and men. This positive encouragement to social welfare activities has been the most useful and noteworthy contribution of Jainism to Indian Culture:

This humanitarian approach to lessen the miseries of living beings was included in the vrata, i.e. vow, of aparigraha, i.e. abstention from greed of worldly possessions. The vow of aparigraha is the fifth of the five main vows which must be consistently followed by all persons. Aparigraha involves avoiding the fault of parigraha which consists in desiring more than what is needed by an individual. Accumulating even necessary articles in large numbers, expressing wonder at the prosperity of others, excessive greed and changing the proportions of existing possessions are all forms of parigraha i.e. worldly attach�ments. This vow aims at putting a limit on the worldly possessions by individuals according to their needs and desires. That is why this vow of aparigraha is many times termed as parigraha parimana-vrata, i.e. the vow to limit one�s worldly possessions.

This vow of parigraha parimana is very noteworthy as it indirectly aims at economic equalization by peacefully preventing undue accu�mulation of capital in individual hands. It recommends that a householder should fix, beforehand, the limit of his maximum be�longings, and should, in no case, exceed it. If he ever happens to earn more than that he must spend it away in dana, i.e. charities. The best forms of charities prescribed by religion are ahara-abhaya-bhaisajya�sastra-dana, i.e. giving food to the hungry and the poor, saving the lives of people in danger, distribution of medicines and spreading knowledge. These charities are called the chaturvidha-dana i.e. the fourfold gifts, by Jaina religion and it has been enjoined on the householders that they should make special efforts to give these charities to the needy irrespective of caste or creed.

From the beginning the Jaina householders made it one of their cardinal principles to give these four gifts to all persons who are in need of such help. In fact this help was extended to the protection and well-being of insects, birds and animals also. For this the Jainas established alm-houses, rest-houses, dispensaries and educational insti�tutions wherever they were concentrated in good numbers. The anna�chhatralayas, i.e. alm-houses, were conducted at pilgrim and other centres for the benefit of poor people. In the dharma-s�alas, i.e. rest�houses, lodging arrangements were provided without any charges or at nominal charges at important towns, cities and pilgrim places. The ausadhalayas, i.e. dispensaries, provided free medicines to the afflicted persons. Along with the dispensaries for men, the Jainas conducted special institutions known as Pinjarapolas for the protection and care of helpless and decrepit animals and birds. In unusual times of flood and famine these pinjarapolas carry out various activities for animal protection. There is hardly any town or village of Gujarat or Rajasthan, where a pinjarapola is not present in some form or other. the spread of education the Jainas took a leading part in the education of the masses. Various relics show that formerly Jaina ascetics took a great share in teaching children in the southern countries, viz, Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In this connection Dr. A.S. Altekar rightly observes (in his book Rastrakutas and Their Times) that before the beginning of the alphabet proper the children should be required to pay homage to the deity Ganesha, by reciting the formula SSri Gaitesaya namah, it is natural in Hindu society, but that in the Deccan even today it should be followed by the Jaina formula `Om namah siddham�, it shows that the Jaina leaders of medieval age had so completely controlled the mass education that the Hindus continued to teach their children this originally Jaina formula even after the decline of Jainism. Even now the Jainas have rigorously maintained the tradition by giving freely these Chaturvidha-danas, i.e. four types of gifts, in all parts of India. In this manner the legacy of IvSahavira has been continued to the present day.

Thus there is an immense value attached to this vow of aparigraha or parigraha parimana from social point of view. At the same time this vow has got a great significance in preparing a proper mental attitude towards material possessions, in forming a true scale of values, and in developing a right sense of proportion for individual possessions. This vow emphasises that one should not feel too much attachment towards his own possessions and should resist all tempta�tions. It teaches that one may keep wealth and commodities to satisfy one�s requirements but one should not lose oneself in the pursuit of material gain. In this manner it appeals that one should rise above greed, vanity, lust, etc. Thus the vow of aparigraha inculcates a particular mental attitude of self-restraint in the face of pleasures, of stoicism before temptations and of detachment from superfluities and super-abundances. This attitude of mind is perhaps more necessary to-day than ever before.